The season didn’t start as expected for former Oliver Ames star Kayla Raymond. The senior forward had been named to the all-conference team in each of her first two seasons, was an honorable mention for DII All-American, led Stonehill to 23 wins and an NE-10 title as a sophomore and, after having last year wiped out because of the pandemic, seemed poised to add to her already impressive collection of accolades.
Instead, Raymond had to come off the bench at the start of the season, the Skyhawks got off to a 3-4 start before the Christmas break, and things looked out of sorts.
The holiday break came at just the right time. Raymond and the Skyhawks reset and have turned things around by winning five of six and going 6-3 overall since returning in the new year. Last week, Raymond provided the highlight of the season when she became the 33rd player in program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau and then made the moment even more memorable by scoring a buzzer-beating basket to earn victory over St. Anselm’s.
“I knew I was struggling and I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing,” Raymond said about the start of the season. “I really reflected over Christmas break and came back and kind of changed my mentality a little bit. I think that’s really where it started and I think everyone came back, not just me, and we were ready to play.”
Raymond talked a lot about the team’s improved mentality during the recent run, but health has also played a role in the turnaround. During her sophomore season at Stonehill, Raymond developed heart palpitations that would at times force her out of games. It was a scary situation, but one that she and the coaches have learned to manage.
“It’s something that I can feel right away and I know that if it does happen I just need to get my heart rate down in order for it to stop,” she explained. “It sucks, but that does have to come first before the game.”
A bout of COVID in the fall exacerbated the situation, bringing the palpitations back to the point that Raymond said she had to wear a heart monitor and had to stop all athletic activities for a month. She missed almost all of preseason and admitted that she wasn’t ready physically when the season tipped off.
“It’s definitely very difficult,” Raymond reflected. “I’ve missed a lot of games in my collegiate career, definitely more than I would’ve wanted to. We work so hard during practice and that’s your payment, that’s your reward, to play in the game and it stinks to just be sitting on the bench watching.”
The palpitations are still a concern (she recently had one during the overtime win against Bentley and needed to be subbed out right away to get her heart rate down before re-entering the game), but Raymond has overcome them, worked her way into shape, and is once again playing at the level that made her one of the stars of the NE-10.
“We talk about mental toughness all the time and mental health too,” Raymond said. “Everyone has their own struggles and just being able to come together as a team and being able to pick each other up and push through adversity every day, just being there for each other helps us a lot.”
Raymond is leading the Skyhawks, and is fourth in scoring the conference, at 18.2 points per game. She also leads Stonehill in rebounding and, since the new year, has scored 32 in one game and 26 in two others. Last Saturday, against one of Stonehill’s biggest rivals and the team it beat in the NE-10 championship game two years ago, she reached the 1,000-point plateau in just her 60th career game.
“I tried not to look at the board to see where I was at, that wasn’t my main focus, I just wanted to win the game,” said Raymond, who reached the milestone with a layup late in the fourth quarter. “I scored that last basket and I was running back on defense and I couldn’t help but smile. It was an awesome feeling. I was feeling so many things the other day, I can’t even describe it.”
After a timeout, Raymond was able to be recognized for her accomplishment and take a second to let it sink in, but only a second because there was still a game that needed to be won. With less than a second remaining, Stonehill had an inbounds under the basket and the ball was thrown up to Raymond in the paint. She caught it in mid-air and was able to finish over a crowd of players at the buzzer.
When K-Ray Called Game
— Stonehill Athletics (@GoStonehill) February 6, 2022
“We huddled up and knew exactly what play we were running,” she said. “Coach didn’t even need to call timeout, we knew. That was a perfect pass by Emily (Bramanti) and a perfect screen by Bella (Isabella Santoro). That was an unbelievable feeling. The game winner, that was unbelievable. I’ll take winning a game over scoring 1,000 any day.”
She added, “I could not have scored 1,000 points or won the game the other day if it wasn’t for my teammate who passed me the ball or my teammate who set the screen for me. I owe it all to them, I really do. As much success as I have out there, I can’t take all the credit for that.”
After being lifted up by her teammates at center court, Raymond went to the stands to see her family. She said that one of the reasons she chose Stonehill and to stay in Easton was that her family could easily come see her play and this was a moment to share with them.
“I walked up the stairs and the crowd was up there and I got cheers right away and it just felt amazing,” Raymond recalled. “I went over to them and gave them a hug and my mom had tears in her eyes and that made me have tears in my eyes. It was a great feeling.”
In addition to her family, Raymond also shared the experience with her good friend and another former Hockomock star, Mansfield’s Meg Hill. They have played AAU together since their sophomore year of high school, held a signing ceremony together when they both chose Stonehill, and have been roommates in college. Hill’s mother made decorations to celebrate Raymond’s milestone basket.
“I love her like a sister,” Raymond said. “She’s my best friend and I’ve known her for so long and it’s just amazing to experience that with her. It’s a great relationship and I love the fact that she was there and I got to be able to experience this with her.”
From health concerns to all that the pandemic has thrown at them over the past two years to just navigating life at college, Raymond said she is grateful to have Hill (a 1,000-point scorer while at Mansfield) there through it all. “She definitely knows me better than anyone else and we’re able to talk to each other and completely open up. If I’m struggling, she’s always there for me. It’s awesome just to have someone like that here with me.”
Although the Skyhawks, who are currently ranked No. 9 in the D2SIDA East Region poll, suffered a setback against Pace this week (in a game that Raymond missed), there is renewed confidence in the team. Stonehill bounced back yesterday with a win over Assumption, powered by Raymond’s game-high 26 points. Raymond believes Stonehill is coming together at the right time to make a run and can compete with anyone in the NE-10.
“I think we all feel like we’re in a really good spot right now,” she explained. “We’re all so locked in and we want to win and we know we can win.”
Ed. Note – Raymond was back in the lineup on Saturday, scoring 26 points to lead Stonehill to a win against Assumption, improving the Skyhawks’ record to 10-7 on the season. It was the third time in the last four games that Raymond scored 20-plus points.